One thing that happens when traveling a lot is we tend to grow a large collection of reward memberships: Car rentals, airlines, hotel programs, there are all kinds of ways to collect points or earn rewards. Free stuff is great, right?
Why they offer us free stuff
Why would a hotel chain give you a free nights stay? It’s a loyalty program to get you to spend your nights with them. Of course the rewards aren’t free, you have to spend your money with their brand. The more we feel like we are “gaming the system” the more we spend our money with them and the less we spend on their competition.
Grocery store gas discount
Kroger utilizes the “Plus” card where you save money on advertised prices in the store. But they also have a rewards program: If you spend more than $100.00 in groceries then they will give you 10 cents off per gallon of gas (one fill-up per month). In other words, you’ll save $1.50 by filling a 15 gallon tank, kind of like a 1.5% rebate. Not so great of a deal, huh?
Built into the price
Kroger does not lose money on the gasoline deal even though they are losing money when giving you a discount on the gas. The discount has been built into the price. You could buy many similar items at another grocery store such as Aldi’s or Shop ‘n Save but at a more affordable price. In other words, you are paying more for the privilege of getting a 1.5% discount on gas. And I fall for it too.
Speedway is a gas station that offers it’s SpeedyRewards member the chance to earn points at the pump. Their gas prices are equal to other stations in the same neighborhood, so this is a true deal. Further more, they are like a mini-grocery store. They have hot sandwiches, Krispy Kreme doughnuts, isles of candy, chips, batteries, and even dog food. One side of the building is being held up by floor-to-ceiling size refrigerators full of sodas, flavored water, and dairy products, not to mention the beer cooler. Of course, while the gas is pumping away I can run inside and get two 20oz Diet Mountain Dews for $2.50 or $1.59 each. What’s this? A special deal where I buy six this month I get the seventh free? What a reward!
It’s the opposite of a deal
Buying six 20oz Diet Mountain Dews for $1.59 each will cost you a total of $9.54 (not including tax). That means you earned a rebate of 16.6% by getting the seventh free. Not a bad deal until you realize you could have bought a six-pack of 24oz Diet Mountain Dews at the grocery store for $4.00. I know this, yet I continue to try to earn my “7th” reward. I even created a video Teach Kids the Value of a Dollar with Mountain Dew and I STILL fall for it.
How do you select the hotel to stay in? Many times we select a property that is in our “hotel network”. Priority Club has many wonderful properties including Holiday Inn, Candlewood Suites, and Crowne Plaza. Many of these properties (in average markets in non-peak times) go for $90 – $120 a night. Compare that with a Comfort Suites or Microtel Inn, chains that are not included in the Priority Club program, and you could save $30 a night! The savings from 3 nights at these hotels would be as much as one night’s stay at a Holiday Inn. Now that’s rewarding!
Credit Card points without Credit Cards
One of the most successful marketing programs for debt products is credit card points. Swipe and earn, right?
PerkStreet is a wonderful alternative with similar rewards without the debt. Earn a percentage of each non-pin purchase towards gift cards from Best Buy, Amazon, even Starbucks. You could use one of those, couldn’t you? There are many reasons I love PerkStreet, but earning rewards while living debt free is the main one. NOTE: As of 8/12/13, PerkStreet no longer offers Perks (rewards).
Get the points?
There is nothing wrong with rewards programs, we just need to make sure we never consider points when making a decision on where we buy, where we stay, or how we fly. Our decisions should be based on quality, service, or price – not by considering only those companies we have an “existing relationship” through a discount card. The best news is that today we can live debt free while earning points and rewards without credit cards!